The International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades drew a record 15,000 attendees to Orlando, Fla., July 12-15, with exhibitors reporting robust sales activity during a high-energy four-day show.
“The show is going great,” Glenn Hughes, vice president of industry relations for the American Sportfishing Association, said on the final day of ICAST, which was held at the Orange County Convention Center. “There’s been tremendous foot traffic from all over the country and internationally. Exhibitors and buyers are happy, and some [exhibitors] are saying it has been their best show ever.”
Tim Mossberg was one of those happy exhibitors. “I have seen a dramatic increase in the quality and the quantity of interest over the past few years, and it’s really peaking this year,” says Mossberg, president of Fish Monkey Gloves of Destin, Fla., which sells fishing, boating and water sports gloves. “We’re a brand-new company with a brand-new product, so we had to be here. It’s going very well. We have no hard numbers yet, but we anticipate sales will be very brisk.”
ICAST is the largest sportfishing show in the world. It has gained momentum since the Great Recession, breaking attendance records every year. ICAST will remain in Orlando in 2017 and 2018, says Hughes.
The ASA, which produces ICAST, was hoping for 14,000 attendees, but exceeded that mark by 1,000. Last year, the show drew 12,500.
The number of exhibitors also has steadily climbed. There were 700 overall, including the new marine exhibitors and the fly tackle exhibitors. ICAST accounts for 552 of those exhibitors. The show covered 650,000 gross square feet of floor space — up from 350,000 since 2011.
This was the fourth year that ICAST has been held in conjunction with the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show, produced by the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. It was the first year that ICAST organizers worked with the National Marine Manufacturers Association, hosting the NMMA Marine Accessories Pavilion, which featured 40 exhibitors of aftermarket products.
“As an electronics company, we could get lost in a sea of tackle and fishing rods, so this is perfect for us,” says Gabe Isham, director of operations for Norcross Marine Products, an Orlando company that sells handheld depth finders. “We’ve seen good traffic so far. It is important for us to separate ourselves from the hardcore fishing gear.”
The New Products Showcase featured more than 1,000 items — another record — covering rods and reels, tackle, lures, footwear, lifestyle apparel, boating accessories, electronics, kids’ tackle and more. The showcase allows exhibitors to “bring forward what they believe are their best efforts,” says ASA president and CEO Mike Nussman. “[Media and buyers] get a quick look at all the products without any pressures from the exhibitor representatives themselves.”
Voters and buyers chose the top products from the showcase. The ICAST Best of Show awards included 24 product categories and an overall best-of-show award.
Johnson Outdoors won overall best of show for its Minn Kota Ultrex trolling motor. The company also captured the best of show boating accessory award for the trolling motor and the best of show boat award for its Old Town Predator kayak.
Lew’s Fishing Tackle collected several awards, including best saltwater rod and freshwater reel. St. Croix grabbed two awards, one for freshwater rod and fly-fishing rod. Pure Fishing Inc. won for both its saltwater reel and fly reel.
As the show has gotten more popular, exhibitors have expanded their display spaces. For exammple, Lil’ Anglers, of Springfield, Mo., which carries Kid Casters and Steinhauser Tangle-Free rods, shared a booth with another company in 2013, says CEO Ralph Duda III.
“We just didn’t have the money but wanted to be there,” he says. In 2014 Lil’ Anglers moved into a 10-by-20-foot space, and then a 20-by-30-foot space in 2015. This year the company had two booths — a 20-by-50 and a 20-by-20 — and Duda was darting between them, closing deals with retailers such as Gander Mountain and Scheels Sports.
The show included much more than the exhibition. At the State of the Industry breakfast, speakers focused on angler retention.
“Last year 6.5 million people dropped out of the sport,” Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation president Frank Peterson told the audience. “I ask everyone in this room: What did we do to try to keep those people — as state agencies, as retailers, as an industry?”
The keynote speaker, communications and brand strategist Ken Schmidt, an avid angler, followed Peterson, saying one of the biggest stumbling blocks for businesses these days is avoiding the constant use of “feature talk” about the products they sell. “We have to impart information that will be memorable and repeatable,” says the former director of communications for Harley-Davidson. “Nothing is crappy anymore — no market will accept it. What we are selling has to transcend the product or the service. When people can’t humanize us as a business, we don’t exist.”
ICAST On The Water at Big Toho Marina in Kissimmee, 30 minutes from the convention center, gave media and buyers a chance to demo product in its natural environment. The Fishing League Worldwide held the ICAST Cup industry bass fishing tournament. This was the third year for the Bass & Birdies Classic golf tournament.
Wade Bourne, 69, a longtime fishing and outdoor writer and broadcaster and founder and host of Wired2Fish/Hunt Radio, received the Homer Circle Fishing Communicator Award from the Professional Outdoor Media Association.
Business seminars were held daily. “Modern Digital Content Strategies To Bait, Hook & Land Millennnial Anglers” was led by 19-year-old Tyler Anderson of “TylersReelFishing,” a YouTube fishing show, and Tom Rowland, host and producer of “Saltwater Experience,” a television show and a website with video.
Anderson uses social media such as Snapchat and Instagram to connect with viewers on a personal level. “It’s hard to get a start on YouTube,” says Anderson, who has nearly 40,000 YouTube subscribers. “Engagement on social media builds a fan base.”
Anderson says quality, short videos — about three to five minutes with only subtle product promotion — work best. And they’re hard work, taking him eight hours to produce. He sees live streaming as a future development in media.
Television is still important, says Rowland. “But if you’re not paying attention to social media and digital delivery you are not making sales,” he adds. The investment in strategy and delivery of digital content at “Saltwater Experience” has clearly become greater than in its television component, he says.
“You have to go where the eyeballs are.”
This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue.